My path has not been determined. I shall have more experiences and pass many more milestones. – Agnetha Faltskog
There’s so much to cherish when reflecting upon the memories of 2014 (I turned 40, I got married after 13 years of blissful companionship with the woman I love, I set off on a new career path working for inspiring and supportive people, became friends with a whole new world of creatives who’ve inspired me with their work and spirit, traveled to Kyoto, Paris, and to the New York countryside (by helicopter!).
If 2015 tops this year’s significance, it shall be one helluva ride I will be looking forward to.
We hiked this weekend lured by the smell of damp soil after the epic Southern California rainstorms, hoping to find fruiting chanterelles. We didn’t find those golden Cantharellus californicus in my secret spots, but I did return to my favorite tree to find a young and pristine lion’s mane growing where I last harvested it. I had to balance Emily upon my shoulders – while unwittingly awakening a slightly groggy rattlesnake from its burrow just a few feet away – but we returned home with a beautiful specimen and the memory of a Sunday well spent outdoors together as husband and wife.
I’ve begun writing for San Francisco-based culture site, The Bold Italic. I’ll be focusing on the odds and ends of Los Angeles happenings with the philosophy of, “why the fuck not?” My latest story is about a secret waiting atop of the highest hill of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, guarded, yet open to the public several days of the week.
My father was an avid runner for most of his life. During his lifetime our Venn diagram of activities never quite overlapped, as I avoided running regardless of incentive or threat. Alone in his love of running, my father used to set out early each morning to pound the pavement – returning home just as I was awakening – reborn as a sweat-covered phoenix. Instead, my activities veered to that of many suburban kids growing up in the 1980’s: skateboarding, basketball, bmx, mountain biking. His affinity for running was lost on me: repetitive, measured footsteps to nowhere.
I now run.
Yesterday I found myself in a long debate/discussion at our back doorstep with a developer who plans to raze an older duplex next door to shoehorn in five luxury priced condos into a lot where the residence and a lush yard filled with fruit trees, blooming gigantic cacti, and animals have long called home. It’s such a beautiful space, our neighbors recently snuck into the vacated backyard to get quickly married in a secret ceremony amongst the bird, flowers, butterflies, and blue skies above. It’s where Emily regularly sneaks away into to observe the local birds, insects, and occasional wandering mammal, to simply enjoy the skies above. The impending loss is a tragic realization – a predicament outlining a problem – one which admittedly recognizes the social contract of living in a metropolis where the landscape is forever being changed and manipulated (even in one of its more suburban corners). This is a drama unfolding everywhere, including in our very own backyard.
I’m increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do. – Paul Kingsnorth
When Morrissey copped Emerson and crooned , “Nature is a language…can’t you read?“, it was a desperate question of predicament presenting the diametric opposition of human nature to nature itself. It’s also a question I increasingly seem to ask of everyone around me.
“Oh, cutting down those trees won’t affect anything…the animals will find a home somewhere else!”, “Yeah, I like nature…that’s why we plan to put in a nice lawn and garden in the front of our development”, “We think we’re making life better in your neighborhood…we’re providing more housing” [note: these multi-unit residences without a yard will sell for $600K+ and are styled in a cookie-cutter architectural vocabulary completely out of place amongst both its immediate neighbors and within the parameters of the 90039].
One of the small neighbors set to be evicted from their home next door. Photo: Emily Ho
Development is going to happen, it’s a reality of life. Creating housing for more people to live happily and at a sustainable cost is at the heart of why I initially studied environmental architecture in college. But despite PR attempts to put lipstick on the pig, the majority of developers – and even architects – aren’t guided by making life better for others. Property development is an opportunistic field [see: Donald Sterling], one serving a need for a profit always bordering the extremes, and one where most concessions related to the neighborhood, let alone nature, are minor at best. Market driven motivations have no room for the aretê, the recognition of the innate excellence and importance of all things around us. To be force fed, “No…you don’t realize it could have been worse…by law we’re allowed to build even higher and bigger!” isn’t just unpalatable, it’s a symptom of a society where every permissible boundary is where projects begin and end.
Developing a community can be done differently. Village Homes in Davis, CA is a 60 acre, 242-Unit Mixed Residential “Garden Village” incorporating ecological and social features, including a parks, recreational features, a day-care facility, community gardens, and landscaping which works in conjunction with the environment. 17 acres of community gardens and orchards create interaction between residents, establishing a lifestyle much different from the “heads down, leave me alone” lifestyle prevalent in cities where population density has pushed upward and outward at all expense.
In my hour long talk with this developer representative, I realized she manifested a complete ignorance of how uprooting old trees affects the lives built around it, where pushing out wildlife could be tallied as a minor casualty, and the belief population density is an end solution (rather than a myopic symptom). Our worlds and experiences, as tenant and developer, local and non-local, exist too far apart.
As presented the proposed development isn’t a necessary solution or a betterment of the community, yet repeatedly sold as an “exciting project” (unsurprisingly, those in the community are a bit underwhelmed). From her perspective an opportunity not taken is an opportunity lost, and it tends to be a rule rather than an exception today where urbanist idealism orbits anthro-centric visions of cities “yet to be” at the exchange of a “world disappearing now”. Even my concessionary recommendation of asking them to reconsider incorporating green space/gardens instead of trying to eke out every square inch of the property were met with an incredulous, “Why? That’s why we built rooftop decks for the residents!”. Yeah.
The predicament we find ourselves is one where we keep lying to ourselves: “if we build more/better, things will work out”. But Mies van der Rohe had it right in regard to every design, including urban development: less is more. Progress dictates that we must move forward full steam ahead, yet it seems the more built, the less we seem to gain in long term value, and in the process we unwittingly hurt our own interests until they’ve become irreversibly worsened [see: China]. We can’t design ourselves out of these problems of overpopulation, loss of wildlife, and an increasing scarcity of natural resources…it’s time to un-design this world and allow back some negative space into our existence.
What are those beautiful white flowers growing around the trails of Southern California?
If you’ve been hiking in the foothills, chaparrals, or even just around Griffith Park this spring, you’ve probably noted these femme fatale white blooms growing out in the open inviting curiosity and question. Datura stramonium – aka Jimson weed, the Devil’s Trumpet, thorn apple, or moon flower – has a fascinating history, earning an intertwined history and reputation as both a toxic killer and a hallucinogenic medicinal of powerful healing abilities: the priests of Apollo at Delphi reputedly used it to assist them in seeking their otherworldly prophecies, the Peruvians concocted a delirium-indducing beverage from the plant’s seeds, and the Arabs of Central Africa dried the leaves, flowers, and roots to smoke it for its narcotic effects. Locally, California native tribes would ingest the black seeds to purchase a roundtrip ticket into the spirit world, probably resulting in vision quests not unlike this (One Who Jumps With Modine has sadly faded from tribal oral history).
As anyone who hikes regularly here in Southern California and elsewhere knows: Koreans love to hike. Middle-aged Koreans are often seen offloading from giant chartered busses in multitudes normally reserved for Sunday morning church services, donning satellite dish-sized visors and wearing Burberry/Dooney & Bourke pattern lined “banchan” vests (a nickname for the vests equipped with a multitude of little pockets), geared out for all-day hikes in the nearby Angeles Forest mountains. Many of hikers have discovered these older folks can keep a humbling pace, especially while climbing up to higher destination peaks, with the Korean genetic propensity for a low center of gravity (aka, short and squat), a hearty constitution, and their stubborn pugnacious attitudes making them the hiker-poled equivalent of a Jeep Rubicon.